Protector needs to up her game

The jury is still very much out on how Busisiwe Mkhwebane has fared as Public Protector, but it doesn't look too good, the writer says.
The jury is still very much out on how Busisiwe Mkhwebane has fared as Public Protector, but it doesn't look too good, the writer says.
Image: Esa Alexander

Another day, another court judgment against public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

This time the Northern Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has set aside her report on police minister Bheki Cele whom she ruled had failed to protect whistleblowers who were integral to her corruption investigation.

In her August 2018 report, she accused Cele of gross negligence, improper conduct and maladministration.

She called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to reprimand Cele for what she believed was a lapse in judgement on his part.

Yesterday, Mkhwebane said Wednesday's order was the result of a mutual agreement between herself and Cele. She claimed that the agreement did not mean she conceded to the merits of the case.

It is non-negotiable that the state has a duty to protect whistleblowers.

However, the Witness Protection Act places this responsibility at the door of the National Prosecuting Authority, a fact that the public protector ought to have known when compiling her report.

Mkhwebane's string of embarrassing defeats in court is well documented.

Just a week ago she lost her appeal against a high court interdict obtained by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan in a separate matter.

Mkhwebane's sympathisers have always sought to put forward an argument that her losses in court are not evidence of incompetence as they represent only a fraction of the work she has done since taking office in October 2016.

Granted, Mkhwebane has issued far more reports than those that have been found by the courts to be legally flawed.

However, that the majority of those challenged have been found wanting lends credence to suggestions that she is at best incompetent and, at worst, driven by sinister political motives in the interests of God knows who.

Mkhwebane is the fourth public protector to take office since the Section 9 institution was established in 1995. The first was Selby Baqwa, appointed on the inception of the office in 1995. He was succeeded in 2002 by Lawrence Mushwana and in 2009 by Thuli Madonsela.

The jury is still very much out on how Mkhwebane has fared, but it doesn't look too good.

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